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Susquehanna Valley Center


Words to Remember from Oliver Cromwell

by Charles Greenawalt,
Senior Fellow, Susquehanna Valley Center for Public Policy
 

On April 20, 1653, English soldier and statesman, Oliver Cromwell walked into the British Parliament and dissolved it. The words that he spoke that day still ring familiar to us today. This is true since we have been observing governments at all levels in our federal system engage in ineffective and feckless behavior and decision-making for the last several years.

On a scale that is unprecedented in the last two generations, our Governments, especially at the national level, are led by individuals devoid of any notion of how bipartisanship works or of what the term "public interest" really means. These executive-branch, judicial-branch, and legislative-branch leaders and far too many of the legislative rank-and-file members have a poor understanding of economics, history, and public policy. Many of them have college degrees; unfortunately, a great number of these degrees have been conferred by politically correct institutions of higher education that skew reality and no longer possess a true and accurate knowledge of
history. Many of these policymakers are attorneys. In law school, they learn the law and how to engage in adversarial proceedings; however, they are not required to learn history devoid of political correctness; micro and macroeconomic theory; or benefit-cost analysis and program evaluation. Notably, while non-politically correct institutions of higher education can impart the background useful for successful legislative decision-making, so can a rigorous and lengthy period of reading, discussing, and thinking about the classic Western texts in these academic areas.

Without such a background, one sees national Administrations and Congresses employ the Nixon Doctrine (use only U.S. air, sea, and special forces in mainland Asia along with indigenous infantry forces) successfully in Afghanistan, then reject it with every prospect of the new approach failing at a much higher cost in financial and human resources. One saw during the most recent Presidential campaign that the current President and Secretary of State did not understand the "Laffer Curve" or supply-side economics. Consequently, we now see a national Administration as well as many state governments oblivious to the fact that both Presidents Kennedy and Reagan lowered tax rates to end economic crises and boost the economy. At the state level, we have an Administration that has abolished our motorcycle helmet law and is surprised that its action has resulted in a severe increase in the death toll for motorcyclists.

As alarming as our leaders' lack of understanding of history and economics may be, the motivations that drive our decisionmakers is even more appalling. Legions of former political appointees and senior bureaucrats all recount the same experience - legislators and executive officials make decisions based on blatant self-interest or interest group appeasement. Far too many public policymakers leave government service with large cash purses but small stockpiles of true accomplishments that further the public interest.

Just as we see such a situation today, Oliver Cromwell saw the same situation in 1653. Public sector corruption and incompetence has no geographic or temporal boundaries. Perhaps many of our government policymakers should reflect upon Cromwell's words. Have we become just as dissolute? His observations are as follows:

"It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice, ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of potage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money; is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice that you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not bartered your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth? Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defiled this sacred place, and turned the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance. Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God's help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do; I command you ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place; go get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! Go! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!"


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